Blockchain: Anchoring Music in Time and Space
Blockchains represent the opportunity to anchor a digital event – in this case, music – in time and space. To say “at this time, in this place, these are the people that own the work.”
Today, in 2017, if I’m a songwriter or an artist, I have nowhere in which I can digitally express my rights. As an artist, I come out of the studio, I put that recording on a 20 year-old format like a FLAC or a WAV or an mp3, then I send it out into the world. And I rely on all these other architectures and databases to link together, talk to each other, and get me paid. The problem is that you usually only find issues after they’ve happened, and I just don’t think that’s a modern way to converse machine to machine, using these old formats.
If you’re going to create a new system to digitally enscribe rights, do you do it in a centralised way? That is, do you want to rely on one entity to be the holders of the keys, and therefore give them the ability to overwhelm the system? And if so, you have to trust and rely on them being good people and not wanting to screw artists or performers. If we consider that many centralised systems have been attempted before and have failed, what blockchains represent is a decentralised system, where you are equal among all peers within the system.
That’s powerful because today, if we put our rights into mp3s or WAV files, they’re all alterable. Wherever they go, there’s no way to talk to them. You have to talk to the service providers that administer them and pay out on them. What I think is a much simpler path is if you create a smart, modern digital asset, which is the music with the metadata, and you write that music & metadata to the blockchain, then what you have is a decentralised way of looking at 360°s of the rights of the asset itself. Therefore, wherever I send that asset, if changes are made at the blockchain level, they will express themselves outwards to the asset.
So the obstacles to overcome are that a bunch of the music industry does not want the transparency that this would engender; and a bunch of the music industry is highly invested in payments not reaching the right people in the right way. But that said, what those parties and players are seeing is that if they’re holding a thousand euros under the table, they’re losing out on a million over the table. This system would allow for massive speed in sync licensing, and in confirming who owns what, as opposed to who we think owns it. And I think the other obstacles are ideological: “we’ve already built everything we need, and we’re going to carry on with that, so you take your fancy blockchain somewhere else.” I think that’s a head-in-the sand attitude. It wouldn’t be the first time; hopefully, it’s the last.